Sullivan, Siegecraft. Two Tenth-Century Instructional Manuals by “Heron of Byzantium”
Annotation author: Schoneveld, Katharina
Book author: Sullivan, Denis

Denis Sullivan, Siegecraft. Two Tenth-Century Instructional Manuals by “Heron of Byzantium” (Dumbarton Oaks Studies XXXVI), Washington D.C. 2000

Philologist Denis Sullivan focuses his research on editing and translating Medieval Greek texts. Some of his other work consist of The Life of St. Nikon (published in 1987), The History of Leo the Deacon (published together with A.-M.Talbot in 2005) and The Life of St. Basil the Younger (published together with A.-M. Talbot and S. McGrath in 2014). He has a special interest for hagiography as well as military instructional manuals. Such manuals feature in Siegecraft.

While previous editions of the text known as Parangelmata Poliorcetica, a paraphrase of the ancient poliorcetical works by authors such as Apollodoros of Damascus, Biton, Heron of Alexandria, Athenaeus and Philon of Byzantium, were based on the 16th century manuscript MS 1497 (University Library, Bologna), Denis Sullivan chose to base his own edition on the 11th century manuscript Vat. gr. 1605, the archetype to all surviving copies of this work. His edition also contains the Geodesia, usually assumed to be written by the same author, known as the so-called “Heron” of Byzantium. This name was only given to the author in later times by humanists who added it into the manuscript, possibly because they associated the content of the text and the images with the renowned ancient engineer Heron of Alexandria.

Sullivan accompanies the critical edition of the Greek text with an English translation, a detailed commentary and black-and-white photographs of the manuscript illuminations. He also adds a few introductory chapters in which he discusses what is known of the anonymous author, to whom he refers as Anonymus Byzantinus rather than “Heron” of Byzantium. Sullivan furthermore discusses the date of composition and chooses to follow the traditional dating into the 10th century. He analyses the anonymous paraphraser as an author in the context of his time, while previous scholarship had used his work as a source for reconstructing the ancient treatises’ archetype.

Of special interest is Sullivan’s analysis of the methods of presentation within the works of Anonymus Byzantinus, as well as the textual changes that can be seen in a comparison of the Parangelmata Poliorcetica with the older treatise written by Apollodorus, and the changes in illustration. Sullivan’s arguments regarding the illuminations within the Vat. gr. 1605 in particular are of special interest in the research of my own dissertation topic, which deals with illustrations of military technology in Byzantine manuscripts. Unfortunately, Sullivan chooses only to compare these illustrations to those in manuscripts such as the so-called Mynas Codex (Par. suppl. gr. 607) or the fragments from Vienna (Vind. phil. gr. 120) and does not discuss the striking similarities between the illustrations of the paraphrase and those of manuscripts such as Vat. gr. 1164 or Par. gr. 2442. He remains completely silent about those manuscripts and their illustrations, and, by calling the Anonymus Byzantinus the “first adapter of realistic representation to the poliorcetic genre” he only hints at the possibility that other illuminators might have copied his method of illustration – which after a careful art historical analysis of the illustrations seems unlikely after all.

However, despite addressing the illustrations in a more profound way than most other literature that deals with ancient military engineers’ texts, Sullivan does not delve into an art historical analysis of the images. Instead, he focuses largely on the usage of words that the Anonymus Byzantinus uses to describe his method of illustration, and approaches the topic from a philological perspective.

In another chapter, Sullivan discusses the 10th century context of these works, and thus immensely clarifies the reason for creating such a paraphrase in this period. He does so by naming other Byzantine sources of the time that speak of the usage of such military manuals or machines and techniques that the Anonymus Byzantinus addressed, as well as historiographical reports on sieges which took place around the 10th century.

Sullivan’s edition of the works of the so-called “Heron” of Byzantium are useful to anyone who studies Byzantine siege techniques or the Byzantine art of war. In this way it also connects very well to the subject areas of the GRK 2304. A basic understanding of Ancient Greek is required to benefit from the commentary, which is why this book is only useful to a general audience in a limited way.